Austin Open Days Tour 2012: Garden of Christine Ten Eyck


My third stop on Saturday’s Open Days tour was probably the best known of the bunch, and one I’ve visited previously on the Wildflower Center’s 2010 Gardens on Tour. It’s the personal garden of landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck, which has appeared in the book Tomorrow’s Garden and Martha Stewart Living magazine, among other publications. It also happens to be just half a block’s walk from the Tocquigny garden, my previous stop on the tour, in West Austin’s Tarrytown neighborhood.


The front garden occupies a large lot that slopes toward the street. When Ten Eyck moved in (the house formerly belonged to well-known artist Julie Speed), a circular driveway took up most of the front yard, and rainwater would sheet off the St. Augustine lawn down to the street. A 6-foot-tall stone wall along the street provided privacy but cut off the house from the neighborhood.

Ten Eyck removed both the driveway and the wall. She used limestone excavated from the back garden to build semicircular shallow retaining walls across the front yard, creating numerous small terraces for planting understory trees like Mexican plum, grasses, woody lilies, and perennials without adversely impacting the root zone of the numerous live oaks on the property.


While the wall along the street is gone, the house and new garden still enjoy a feeling of privacy thanks to a dramatic streetside planting of agave (this one is about 7 or 8 feet tall!), ornamental trees, and flowering perennials.


When I visited two years ago, the garden was fairly new and had just endured a very cold winter. Boy, has it filled out since then. Just off the main path, this stone table, with a ‘Sharkskin’ agave in a center pocket, anchors an intimate decomposed-granite patio surrounded by limestone boulders that double as seating and a retaining wall. Bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) on the left screens the street from view. To the right…


…a sunny spot offers an opportunity to grow vegetables.


Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)


The front walk, an informal path of decomposed granite, winds past spicy-scented white mistflower, also called shrubby boneset (Ageratina havanensis), and more bamboo muhly.


Near the front porch, a steel riser creates a level terrace, where yellow butterfly chairs offer a comfy spot to enjoy the garden in the shade of a massive live oak. Last time I visited, the understory was planted with Mexican feathergrass. This time Texas sedge (or some type of sedge) has replaced it. If you’d like to see images of the front walk and porch, click for my 2010 post about Ten Eyck’s garden.


Looking right, you see a fig ivy-covered wall and gated entry that leads to the private back garden.


Native paleleaf yucca (Yucca pallida) and agaves add ever-blue color to the understory.


A potted succulent sits atop a limestone plinth near the front door.


Stepping through the metal-grid gate (made of woven McNichols mesh) in the ivy-covered wall, you enter a narrow courtyard garden along the side of the house.


An outdoor fireplace built into the wall—with a steel-edged hearth—anchors one end of the space.


Gray-green metal chairs from Munder Skiles invite elegant relaxation.


A steel pipe set into the wall drips water into a rugged limestone basin designed by Berthold Haas.


A small, rectangular lawn—the only lawn on the entire property—offers a party-mingling space. It’s bordered with a tan gravel path that leads to a guest house/studio in back of the house.


A galvanized metal bistro set supports a potted agave by the back door.


A sunken gravel garden between the house and guest house features a long, narrow trough-pond with a negative edge. Water spills over the sides and into a basin hidden under the gravel; from there it recirculates back into the trough. Two years ago it was unplanted. This time elephant ears (Colocasia) and other water plants add height and drama to one end of the trough.


Looking back from the other end of the sunken garden


More potted succulents adorn the back stairs.


Variegated yucca


Another inviting table-and-chair set under a possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua) and white American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana var. lactea) offers a lovely spot for enjoying the water feature.

Up next: The contemporary Bonnell Garden. For a look back at the formal courtyard garden of Yvonne Tocquigny, click here.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

9 Responses

  1. What a gorgeous garden! Her front garden is my favorite – so natural looking. I love how designed and natural it is at the same time. Beautiful balance!

    Yes, and then there’s the contrast between the naturalistic front garden and the more structured side/back garden. So many great spaces to enjoy in this garden. —Pam

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    You have so much inspiration in your area. I love those huge agaves. They are so sculptural.

    We are lucky indeed to have so many inspirational gardens to see here. That agave was absolutely massive and stunning, Lisa. —Pam

  3. Kenny says:

    I’ve done a similar design for my front yard (the granite + limestone pavers + feather grass), and have installed a large amount of pea gravel as well (in addition to an area w/ Wildflower Center’s Habiturf, which doesn’t get mowed). My biggest issue has been the labor tradeoff – while I don’t mow anymore, I spend a much greater amount of time vacuuming leaves to keep the gravels pristine! W/o hired help, I can’t imagine doing much more gravel than I’ve already done…

    Kenny, you point out a valid issue about maintenance of gravel. First, it does require maintenance! Second, it’s not always the best material to use if you have a lot of leaf litter and you like a pristine look. Sometimes mulched or paved paths are a better option under trees. —Pam

  4. Thanks for posting so many photos, Pam! The garden really has filled in since your last visit–it looks very peaceful and serene. I’ll be studying these pics for ideas!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the virtual tour, Susan, and only wish you could have been here to see it with us. —Pam

  5. Les says:

    I love color and I like chaos in a garden, but there is something to be said for elegance, and this garden has it. Very beautiful!

    I agree, Les—a relaxed elegance. It’s a beautifully designed garden. —Pam

  6. Shelley Boucher says:

    I love sedge. But I don’t understand it.
    Like a lot of things I love !

    You don’t have to understand it, my friend. Just plant it and enjoy! ;-) —Pam

  7. Nice shots — the garden is so much more lush than the last time, isn’t it? Had a nice chat with Christine about how she’d changed it. I mostly noticed it in the back water feature.

    How nice that you were able to talk with Christine. I saw her surrounded by a crowd of admirers and didn’t have a chance to say hi. Yes, her garden has really grown since we last saw it. —Pam

  8. Hoov says:

    Austin (along with Portland OR) seems to be a hotbed of fresh garden design. Must be wonderful to be a part of that. :)

    Love love love the monster Agave and the steel stair risers. The last photo of the hand-holding couple is sweet. Nothing like a beautiful garden for some hand holding.

  9. [...] garden, which I’ve toured several times, offers much inspiration to central Texas home- owners, who may be wondering how to respond to [...]